Like many other Caribbean islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands is on the up-and-up, showing double the airlift to the Territory to start the year when compared to 2018 and positive feedback from recent agent fam trips.
Tourism commissioner Joseph Boschulte tells Travel Agent that the Territory has hosted a number of agent fam trips and focus groups to see the destination's recovery firsthand. “They have been very, very satisfied with where the recovery is," Boschulte tells us. "We have taken them around to a wide variety of attractions and have taken them to St Thomas, St. Croix and St. John; we wanted them to have the opportunity to see all three islands. From the feedback I've received, they’ve been very pleased with the recovery and that’s a very positive sign. We are definitely moving in the right direction.”
We're also told that the USVI is aiming to increase its continental U.S. sales reps this fall (October, November), at which point the Territory will increase its outreach to agents and other travel professionals.
As more and more hotels and resorts return to the accommodations landscape over the next few months, Governor Albert Bryan Jr. says the Territory is committed securing increased airlift to fill those rooms.
Speaking after a meeting with Delta's leadership team in Atlanta recently, Governor Bryan said in a written release that a strong aerial highway policy was critically important to the Territory's future, and his administration was exploring every avenue to boost relations with airline partners.
Governor Bryan, who was accompanied by tourism commissioner Boschulte, reported that Delta was generally satisfied with the performance of its routes into both of the Territory's airports, and committed his teams at both the Department of Tourism and the Virgin Islands Port Authority to identify opportunities for capacity increases with the airline.
"It was encouraging to hear how confident Delta's team is about our product, and that they are keen to work with us to bolster Atlanta-St. Croix flights to pre-storm levels, when we were experiencing an uptick in demand to the 'Big Island,'" the Governor said in an official release.
"The St. Croix airport has been underutilized for years, so we are looking forward to exploring new ways to put people into seats to St. Croix," said Governor Bryan, explaining that with Divi Carina Bay Resort and Renaissance St. Croix Carambola Beach Resort & Spa expected to come back online later this year, along with the expansion in sharing accommodations and robust business travel demand returning, conditions looked favorable for increasing flights to St. Croix. The governor added Delta was encouraged by a very strong uptick in traffic to St. Croix this past March and was satisfied with the performance of its routes from Atlanta and New York to St. Thomas.
In the short term, there is additional airlift on Spirit Airlines this summer and fall from Fort Lauderdale to St. Croix, increasing from three weekly flights to four. Over some weeks this summer, Spirit will serve St. Croix with five weekly flights.
Previously, American Airlines had announced new service to St. Thomas from Dallas-Fort Worth and Chicago O’Hare, starting December 21. Tourism commissioner Boschulte reported that the new Saturday flights will operate year-round between Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and Cyril E. King Airport on Boeing 757 aircraft with 176 seats. The Saturday service between Chicago O'Hare International Airport and St. Thomas will operate seasonally on Airbus 319 aircraft with a capacity of 128 seats. Flights from Miami are also likely to come.
Additionally, United Airlines has plans to launch daily nonstop flights from Houston to St. Thomas, as well as weekly nonstop flights from Chicago to St. Thomas. Boschulte also reported that United would also consider plans for additional flights to St. Thomas and St. Croix for summer 2020.
While meeting with airlines in the U.S., Governor Bryan told executives that legislation would soon be introduced to attract investors to new hotel and resort projects across the Territory.
What’s to look forward to in the USVI? In St. Thomas, The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas is expected to come back on the market by November, while The Westin St. John Resort Villas is expected to debut additional rooms in the coming months. In 2020, both Marriott's Frenchman's Cove and Sugar Bay Resort & Spa are expected to reopen.